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Opt-in value exchange ads are moving beyond gaming

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As consumers' expectations for relevant advertisements increase, brands not only need to find highly viewable environments to place ads, but they also need to consider different ad formats to deliver more meaningful messages.

The IAB today (5 December) released its Opt-In Value Exchange Advertising Playbook for Brands, a guide to an ad format most prevalently associated with the gaming space.

Susan Borst, vice president of mobile at IAB, said opt-in value exchange ads have a worthy place beyond gaming.

“If there are any misconceptions that [opt-in value exchange ads are] only in gaming, think again,” Borst told The Drum.

Borst gave examples of dating apps and music streaming services using the ad format. Users can opt-in to an ad and receive a reward like opening their dating profile to more people or unlocking music.

“There is some confusion… It’s the publisher, not the brand, that owns the reward transaction. If you’re a music site, it’s the site that dictates what the reward will be,” Borst said.

Priscilla Valls of the IAB working group said research shows that consumers prefer this ad format.

“The playbook highlights numerous research studies that show, without question, consumer receptivity and preference for this type of advertising across the board. Effective for both upper- and lower-funnel benefits, opt-in value exchange ads create many possibilities to meet a brand’s objectives,” Vails said in a blog post from IAB. Vails is vice president of agency advertiser and industry partnerships at Pandora.

Borst said much of the research has been done in the gaming space, and while opt-in ads are making their way across media, including into the OTT space, more research needs to be done.

“IAB is doing a robust research survey in 2019 that will cover different creative formats from video, static, surveys, and different offers in each case that extend beyond gaming,” said Borst.

Still, the research that’s been done shows the utility of the ad format. On the creative front, Borst said there are opportunities for brands to both use existing material and to create custom options.

The playbook details how brands need to consider where and for how long their creative elements will be viewed.

According to the playbook, “Opt-in value exchange advertising gives brands the opportunity to choose the amount of time consumers spend with their content. Because consumers must opt-in to engage with a brand, publishers and vendors can set a time frame for the ad experiences.”

The use of end cards in opt-in value exchange ads also allows for greater interactivity and highlight more performance metrics.

“In the end card, [brands] can obtain additional consumer engagement in terms of play again or view again. You can have dynamic store location opportunities. You can have a call-to-action with local commerce with a shop-now, and other examples where call-to-action end cards can drive more lower-funnel performance metrics,” Borst said.

The publisher direct buying process for opt-in value exchange ads is the same as any other ad format.

There are options to buy value exchange ads programmatically, but advertisers should consider that completion rates will be higher since opt-in ads are not skippable.

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Who should take advantage of IGTV first?

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YouTube has had a near monopoly on the long-form video space — until recently. Instagram’s IGTV is here and it looks like it could be a formidable competitor. IGTV is the popular social media platform’s very own vertical video app, which is designed to allow brands, influencers, and creators to post longer segments; allowing for videos up to one hour in length, compared to the previous length of only one minute.

IGTV will almost certainly develop as a bona fide YouTube competitor, at a time when YouTube may be in its most vulnerable state. Here are the most likely reasons why:

IGTV could be a brand safety oasis

YouTube is especially sensitive to IGTV at the moment due to brand safety concerns. For the past year, YouTube’s biggest challenge has been assuring advertisers that their buys will be safe. At one point, 250 brands stopped advertising on the platform altogether. And, while almost all brands have returned, and YouTube has invested heavily in being a better partner, half of advertisers say YouTube has done a poor job with brand safety and managing inventory quality.

For IGTV, this is a gift. Though it has been careful not to say so explicitly, Instagram will likely be positioning IGTV as a more curated and brand-safe environment than YouTube. Brands want an alternative in light of safety concerns, so they’re looking at options from Snapchat and other premium publishers. We see this in our own spend data, with YouTube ad growth almost completely flat; increasing by just 0.2% from January to May.

So, what can brands do in the interim, whose main concern is brand safety? The instinct is to be cautious. But that may not be the right answer. Instead brands should be clear and firm with expectations. Brands first to market will be able to push Instagram to be brand safe – to demand it – and IGTV has the opportunity to challenge Google Preferred by providing brands with a transparent, brand-safe solution to YouTube’s shortcomings. However, the platform has to prove it by example first.

YouTube has made significant strides in showing advertisers that they are taking brand safety concerns seriously (e.g. the implementation of whitelist and blacklist technologies, partnering with DoubleVerify). IGTV has to be brand-safe out of the gate — or at the very least, safer than its competitor — to draw those advertisers away from YouTube.

Advertisers will like IGTV for performance

Beyond brand safety, IGTV could beat YouTube on performance. Over the past two years, the demand for performance by digital media has exploded. Last year, brand frustrations culminated when P&G and Unilever, two of the world’s biggest advertisers, dramatically cut ad spend due to concerns around transparency and ROI. Ad budgets are being scrutinized more than ever and a growing number of operations are being taken in-house.

This ties back to IGTV and YouTube in a few ways. First, according to ANA data, influencer marketing has surged. Seventy-five percent of brands are spending on influencers and nearly half will increase spending in the next year. Why? Sixty percent say they’re happy with the performance they’ve seen, with Instagram being the second-most popular channel for influencer programs, just behind Facebook.

Instagram has established itself more strongly as a performance channel than YouTube and it offers an unmatched ability to drive purchases. That’s an advertiser’s dream, of course. A recent study, reported by RetailDive, and conducted by Dana Rebecca Designs, revealed that 72% of users have made a purchase decision as a direct result of something they saw on Instagram. YouTube, by contrast, has helped with purchase decisions already planned. If Instagram can deliver similar performance through IGTV, advertisers will come calling.

Retail brands, specifically those that are significantly reliant on online shopping, should realign their budgets to make IGTV a priority, as IGTV will be a great resource for driving the right type of customers toward a purchase.

Instagram is growing, while YouTube is not

Unfortunately for YouTube, brand safety isn’t the only major challenge it has grappled with recently. In addition to ad growth, viewership numbers have begun to slow down. A few months ago, major channels and influencers on YouTube saw their monthly views stall. An analysis by eMarketer echoed this pattern, noting that YouTube’s audience growth was 13% in 2016 but only 9% in 2017. According to the report, “YouTube viewership is nearing saturation in many markets.” Those numbers are likely to continue to erode.

IGTV, by contrast, is only just getting started. Its growth prospects are bright. Instagram’s user base is growing by 5% each quarter. The company recently announced 1 billion monthly active users. YouTube has more at 1.8 billion, but Instagram hasn’t shown any signs of plateauing. Also, consider that consumer tastes have shifted towards vertical video as mobile viewing has exploded. IGTV is a vertical video-first platform, while YouTube only added vertical video compatibility in January. The viewership trends are in Instagram’s favor, whereas YouTube is playing catch up.

YouTube could wonder about its ability to maintain audience numbers if top stars and influencers desert it. At its core, Instagram is a social network. YouTube, by comparison, is not. Most come to YouTube for personalities like Smosh and Jenna Marbles. But if the personalities go away, so do the viewers.

In recent months, some influencers haveeither left the platform or chosen to diversify their content across challenger services such as Twitch. As YouTube tightens brand safety and copyright controls in an effort to calm advertisers, creators are concerned that the cleanup is leading to “viewer suppression” and demonetization. IGTV has already partnered with popular influencers such as King Bach and LeLe Pons for its launch, and any blowback among YouTube’s community of stars will only help it attract more creators.

Tread cautiously

IGTV’s opportunity to become a brand-safe, performance-driven, vertical video alternative to YouTube isn’t just hype. That being said, brands should remain vigilant during this time, and not act on impulse once IGTV decides to monetize. Some may be tempted to dive right in, due to the influencer-heavy list of content creators on the platform, but IGTV will have to prove it has learned from the woes of its competitor, before it can truly outshine YouTube.

Todd Krizelman is chief executive officer of MediaRadar

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Group Nine centralizes branded content team with launch of an in-house studio

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Group Nine Media is bringing its branded content strategy under one roof with the launch of in-house studio Brandshop.

The digital publisher announced today (11 December) that Brandshop will bring together the creative services teams across its four brands — NowThis, Thrillist, Seeker, and The Dodo — and the branded entertainment piece of its production studio Jash.

Group Nine president Christa Carone said centralizing everything will better inform the outlet's editorial strategy.

"The campaigns, the videos, and all of the programs we're developing are entirely informed on the insights that we're seeing from the audiences that engage with our editorial content. So, when an advertiser asks what young are people interested in, [we have a] robust set of data to be able to answer that question in an informed way," Carone told The Drum.

According to Nielsen, Group Nine reaches over 80% of US adults in their 20s. Group Nine brands earn more than 140 social engagements each month, per Listen First Media.

Yosef Johnson, senior vice president and head of Brandshop, will lead the new studio. He called it a "holistic new shop" across Group Nine's four brands.

Group Nine is the latest media company to push a brand content strategy. Condé Nast recently set up its own agency and brand consultancy in the UK.

Carone said Group Nine is seeing "very healthy, double-digit growth" in the area, and that as a social-first publisher it has a unique position in offering branded content.

"We lean very heavily into the social platform. It's one of the reasons we know advertisers want to work with us, because we are known in the marketplace as being one of the most robust social-first publishers, so our learnings from that are helping advertisers better understand how they can engage with younger audiences on social," Carone said.

Digital media currently stands on some shaky grounds as it competes for advertising dollars with giants such as Facebook and Google. BuzzFeed's chief executive suggested a merger among media companies could help publishers better compete.

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A big hairy toe appears on NYC Subway as Billie expands ‘Project Body Hair’ into OOH

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Direct-to-consumer (DTC) razor brand Billie has taken to New York City’s Subway for the launch of its first out-of-home campaign, a series of images depicting real female hair on previously undepicted body parts – including the toe.

‘The underrated toe shave’ – a close shot of a woman shaving her immaculately pedicured-yet-fuzzy digits – is just one of the images featured in the campaign now live in Williamsburg’s Bedford station.

Other creative features armpits in various states of regrowth, and a razor cutting through the lawn of a women’s leg.

The work was derived from Billie’s Project Body Hair launch video. The razor brand’s overarching ad campaign, which racked up 22m views across social media, was lauded internationally for being the first to depict real body hair.

The shot of a toe being shaved in the film triggered a particularly positive reaction, which led Billie to place a similar image front-and-center of its first foray into OOH, explained founder Georgina Gooley.

“The poster of the hairy, big toe is…big!” she told The Drum. “We’ve received overwhelming support for acknowledging ‘underrated shaves’ and this will be the first time a toe is displayed like this in OOH.

"We’re hopeful women in Williamsburg will be supportive of us doing things a little bit differently. It was incredible to watch the [Project Body Hair] film ‘go viral’ and it’s been even more rewarding to see it start an industry trend and change the way women are portrayed in advertising.”

The initial campaign led Billie’s sales to double in one week. The brand also carved out the project’s longevity with the creation of a free-to-access image library of women proudly exhibiting their body hair.

Now, with an expansion into OOH, Billie joins the ranks of subscription-based, DTC brands capitalizing on the Subway’s inventory to reach young, affluent audiences.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how [outdoor] performs as part of our larger 'test and learn' strategy,” said Gooley.

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